Restaurateur Extraordinaire: Sam Covelli Does It With More Than 200 Locations

Sam Covelli says he grew up in the business working in his father's McDonald's. Under his father's leadership, Covelli Enterprises eventually grew to 26 locations, one of the largest McDonald's franchisees in the country. But after the senior Covelli handed over the company reins to his son, you could say that Covelli Enterprises grew up with Sam Covelli.

Under his leadership, the company's McDonald's holdings grew to 43 restaurants, keeping Covelli Enterprises among McDonald's top franchisees, and an award-winning one at that. Covelli sold off those restaurants and shifted the family business into Panera Bread--and how.

Today, Covelli Enterprises owns a 198 Panera Bread locations, with 20 under making it Panera's single largest franchisee and the fifth-largest restaurant franchisee in the country. Talk about a "mega franchisee": Covelli Enterprises has 20,000 employees, is looking at more than $400 million in revenue for 2011, and has won multiple awards for restaurant operations and community service. As if that's not enough, the company has an agreement to develop 50 O'Charley's restaurants.

Keeping the operations on track--and driving further growth--puts Covelli on the road every week. He enjoys visiting his company's many stores more than he'd like to play golf--and he used to be a pretty good golfer. "Honestly, I never truly feel like I go to work," he says. "I get out of bed and can't wait to get in my car to go to some of my restaurants."

One thing Covelli enjoys about visiting the stores is seeing employees grow with the company. He likes giving workers the chance to build a career by working their way up. "We have someone who was an assistant manager 15 years ago, and now he's head of operations for two of our markets," says Covelli. "I love to see people growing like that from within."

The company's phenomenal growth has also enabled Covelli to follow some of his father's advice--advice he considers to be among the best he's ever received. "One big thing my father always preached to me constantly was community," he says. "We believe in giving back. It's the right thing to do."

Involvement in local communities is the backbone of his business, Covelli says, and the company donates to dozens of organizations, including partnering with banks and other agencies to get unsold bread and products to people who need them. Last year, the Day-End Dough-Nation program donated more than $10 million in unsold goods to community organizations.

Name: Sam Covelli
Title: Owner/Operator
Company: Covelli Enterprises
No. of units: 198 Panera Bread and 20 under construction; 5 O'Charley's, with an agreement to build 50.

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